Winning Poems for October 2015

Judged by Barbara Siegel Carlson

First Place


by Brenda Levy Tate

I shrink against this mountain of debris –
all the remnants, life abandoned
to mere stuff, unending stuff, the way
stars coalesce from dust and matter
bright or dark. So here I shiver,
a freshborn star in early fall, with no
name but Widow – and we are

In smoky recesses behind the stove,
ash webs clot the brick and iron.
But this is nothing to do with me today.
I must reveal or re-conceal the boxed
parts of you, things seen, evidence
printed on cardboard. Filing cabinet, 
curio, big bookcase, night stand 
(more than one).

I pick through odd socks, argyle vests,
worn suspenders, underwear draped
like a flag of defeat over my forearm.
Vials of pills, ointment tubes oozing,
ostomy pouches, belts, safety pins,
rusty razors.

Your vintage dolls sway in their velvet
skirts, heavy with desire – how a proper 
lady ought to look, you’d remark,
then brush them more gently than ever
you stroked me. Elegant, immortal
in the blur of decay. Vivien Leigh, green
lace, straw bonnet over spilled curls.
Stick-hipped flapper, real mink stole
on her shoulders.

Marilyn in billows, fanned by a grate.
Gauzy maiden choked with pearls.
Her hair is human and I wonder who
gave it up. I stand them together
in a glass cabinet; they watch me nastily,
like hookers from a holding cell.
They will seek you one day, I think,
following their plastic hearts.

I am no gowned fancy-woman.
My jeans wear the grease of sliding
through loss and cardboard.
Size 13 sandals, old movies,
music of the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties,
siren songs that lured us to park
on a thousand thousand lusty,
moonsweet hills.

Doulton figurines – all men but one,
for you disliked flouncy-dressed
coquettes on your china shelves.
Perhaps you thought them cold? Fabric
murmurs promises, but porcelain
mutters only to itself.

I set Admiral Nelson in front
of a cableknit lobsterman; carpenter
beside a drummer pulling off his boots.
The Toby pirate, then Prince William,
who gleams red-wedding-splendid.
Katherine next to him – a bride,
and therefore safely possessed.
She doesn’t count. You have made her
an exception to your rule.

There’s disorder in this nascent cosmos.
And I am not God, nor even close,
just much too frail for so many
resurrections. Every kitchen utensil
a blade to open me. Every facecloth a rag
that will not purify me. All your sins
measured out in closet space,
where light never visits. Your hopes
adrift, moted in the solar winds.

Mine are the final tatters of you –
put away, shelved or dragged unaware
to the roadside. History on gravel
and Michalemas daisies. The place
where grief and excess go to die.

Richly detailed and resonant, this masterfully crafted poem leads us through the difficult physical and emotional task of sorting through a loved one’s possessions following death. What is admirable here is the way the author’s reflecting on these items opens to deeper and further dimensions fusing the personal and the universal, physical and cosmic. Powerful images such as “Every kitchen utensil/a blade to open me” and “All your sins/measured out in closet space,/where light never visits” reveal fresh often ironic perspectives. The language is weighted but scrutinizing to enact the heft and residue of the various things that define a life. In the process the ‘clutter’ that is relegated to history in the end has been transformed into the body of the life one must let go that becomes excessive to allow one to perceive “hopes…moted in solar winds,” that is the true nature of the spirit. --Barbara Siegel Carlson

Second Place

Glosa: Maps impossible to refold

by Esther Murer
The Waters

Maps impossible to refold
are replaced by robot voices
that send us
where we think we want to go.
But we end up somewhere else.

          – Mary Cresswell, “Magnetic North”

Benton Harbor is the hair of the little girl
I drew on the beach with my toy rake.
Kalamazoo is the smell of celery fields
and the blue gingerbread house
where we turned north. Battle Creek
is wondrous globes of viscous gold
soap in a ladies restroom.
Cedar Springs will forever remain
“The red flannel town” for the cold.
Maps impossible to refold

into memory. The operator
to whom my sister kept saying
“Hewwo” when asked for a number
please — and the one
in Mineral Point who deduced
that out of the possible choices
the Clare I was trying to reach
must be Steve Harwood’s daughter
and connected me in a trice —
are replaced by robot voices

who announce calls from
all manner of persons not on
our “received” list: “Anna
Neemus,” “Nottavaila Bill,”
“Seetle Wah,” “Wtf” — the nature
of whose sinister agendas
we have no desire to learn; and others whose
operators are assisting other customers,
as they incessantly remind us, or
that send us

down myriad culs-de-sac before
cutting us off. Last I knew, my hometown’s
railroad station had become
a café-cum-artspace. But in my dreams
the Chicago public transit system
connects with that of Oslo.
The stops and landmarks tend to migrate,
so I still spend most of the dream
wondering if we will ever get to
where we think we want to go.

Indeed, where do we want to go?
And why? Toward summer’s end
the woolly bears head south, always south,
in search of winter shelter. Perhaps
it’s some dim hope of one day growing
wings which leads us on, propels
us in search of the purity we’re sure
still lurks in our soul’s home
over the next (or the next) hill?
But we end up somewhere else.

I love how the name of a place evokes such particular images in memory that become a kind of inner road map directing one back to one’s past, only to realize those images cannot ever literally direct one back. Such sharp engaging details lead to revealing to us the true nature of our inner maps, powered by dreams and deeper connections to the natural and spiritual worlds. In this way we find like "Glosa’s" universal language a larger unexpected vision of the mystery. --Barbara Siegel Carlson

Third Place

On The Buses

by Marilyn Francis
The Write Idea

My first was the 27.
A marvel among the one-a-minute 30s
along the Marylebone Road.

I used to worry
that I would be lost in the fug of bodies
and London Transport upholstery.

That I would forget where to get off
end up at the depot, mislaid.

And now the mislaid and unclaimed
spend all-night on buses, sleeping
looping the city streets until dawn

to disembark where they started
and where they will begin again
after dark

on the last bus to nowhere.
On the numberless transport
of the dispossessed.

This deceptively plain-spoken terse poem carries great power and lyricism. The language used to describe riding the bus is unique and the poem is unified through its assonance as in mislaid/unclaimed, and disembarked/ started/ dark and numberless/ dispossessed. We go from focusing on individual numbers and names to the numberless largely invisible, those for whom the buses are a kind of interminable and ironic ‘home.’ The poem is finely controlled and turns in the middle shifting the focus from the speaker to the homeless, the turn on the repetition of “mislaid” and “unclaimed,” leading to a larger vision by illuminating a hidden reality. The harmonics are powerful through heightening the emotion and irony, especially in the final stanza. --Barbara Siegel Carlson

Honorable Mention

Blue on Blue Room (1901)

by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review

Now that I have hidden you beneath prying
eyes, old friend, you continue to watch us through

cataracts, while I eliminate all traces of you.
People hidden inside fake walls have no advantage

to our scheme. One hundred years later, you won’t escape
their pounce. A woman makes a fine distraction,

so it’s been my experience. She soothes
her body with sponge, while your eyes weep

through the canvas, lurking to the very end. Still
you bored me with your vulgar moustache. She, the only

one of any merit, little lost raven, refused to shave
hers off. Alas the deep room smolders turquoise,

it’s easy to track this scent. A coil of smoke hisses
as the paint parts, frankincense legs bruised

by plum-blush. She bends, though we know, she no longer
breathes the grey decay of air these years past. Vaporous

beard, the one I choose to brush over, ah, a voyeur
like me. Our tragic flaw, scrutiny: impossible blue-white sin.

A fascinating finely layered monologue whereby the painter addresses the portrait he has attempted to paint over to hide but can’t completely. Words like prying, fake, lurking, hisses, breathes create tension between the complex and growing control the artist wishes to place on the painting and the figure underneath that persists. I admire the subtle ironic tones and richly textured language that blur the distinction between the painter and the painted in their scrutiny. In the end the final image of sin as both impossible and ‘blue-white’ is ambiguous and paradoxical. --Barbara Siegel Carlson

  • February 2019 Winners

    • First Place

      Not a Poem of Crows
      by Ken Ashworth
      The Waters

      Second Place

      Resolution to Laugh More
      by F.H. Lee
      The Write Idea

      Third Place

      The Nowhere
      by Erwin Fernandez
      Wild Poetry Forum

  • January 2019 Winners

    • First Place

      How the Wind Works
      by Alison Armstrong-Webber
      The Waters

      Second Place

      Sleep Walker
      by Brenda Levy Tate

      Third Place

      The Woman Who Grew up in My House Finds Me on Facebook and Comes to Take a Look Around
      by Antonia Clark
      The Waters